LAKE TOXAWAY, NORTH CAROLINA — A new state-of-the-art greenhouse on Toxaway Mountain will carry a name fabled in the world of horticulture. Southern Highlands Reserve, a nonprofit native plant garden and leader in red spruce restoration, broke ground on the new facility last week and announced a new partner supporting conservation efforts for the high elevation spruce-fir forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, the greenhouse will be named in honor of the late Rachel “Bunny” Mellon.

Known for impeccable artistry in the world of horticulture, Bunny Mellon’s design techniques celebrate quiet spaces and honor the mystery of nature by finding perfection in its wild ways. With an eye for simplicity and elegance, Mellon created gardens — including the White House Rose Garden, at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy — to keep the beauty and natural growth of plants center stage, without hint of the helping human hand. Mellon established the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation in 1976 to honor her father, whose business acumen contributed to the success of the Gillette Safety Razor Company as well as Listerine mouthwash, which Lambert’s father invented in 1879.

“This partnership exemplifies the wonderful relationship my grandmother had with the outdoors, conservation, and supporting others to create beauty,” said Thomas Lloyd, president of the Gerard. B. Lambert Foundation. “We are so thrilled to work directly with Southern Highlands Reserve on this very meaningful endeavor.”

The spruce-fir forests lining the highest ridges of the Southern Appalachian Mountains are the second most endangered ecosystem in the United States. They are survivors from a time long before humans roamed the land, and through more than a century of logging, fire, pollutants, and parasites, red spruce have endured existential decline.
Spruce-fir forests are home to two federally endangered species, the Carolina northern flying squirrel and the spruce-fir moss spider, which is the world’s smallest tarantula. Also living there are the northern saw-whet owl, red crossbill, brown creeper, black-capped chickadee, hoary bat, silver-haired bat, Weller’s salamander, pygmy salamanders, and a type of lichen called hot dots. The U.S. Forest Service has identified sixteen rare plant species found only in spruce-fir forests. As warming temperatures push more species northward and to higher elevations, red spruce matrons will provide refuge beneath their canopy.

Southern Highlands Reserve, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and other partners have formed the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI) to streamline efforts, expertise, and funding for red spruce. Southern Highlands Reserve grows red spruce trees from seed to be planted on public lands through SASRI’s network of partners. At an elevation of 4,500 feet, Southern Highlands Reserve’s nursery perfectly mimics the natural climate and conditions of
spruce-fir forests.

More than 6,000 of the nonprofit’s red spruce trees are growing on public lands and have an unprecedented 90 percent survival rate. Because efforts have been so successful, the U.S. Forest Service has requested 50,000 more trees, necessitating a new larger and more efficient greenhouse facility. It will include technology to reduce energy expenditure and will more than double current capacity in the same footprint. It will offer enhanced opportunities for visitor education and a home to the dozens of other native plant species Southern Highlands Reserve propagates for restoration projects as well as home gardens.

Leading the charge locally, the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority (TCTDA) has contributed a $100,000 grant to the project through its Destination Infrastructure program. Southern Highlands Reserve has also received a $300,000 grant from the National Forest Foundation, a $100,000 challenge grant from the BAND Foundation, a $50,000 grant from the AEC Trust, and many gifts from family foundations and private donors.

The lead consultant for the greenhouse project is Ron Determann, former vice president of the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory at Atlanta Botanical Garden. Sitework Studios, which has developed plans for several Asheville-area parks, mixed-use areas, business and education institutions, gardens, and residences, has created the site design. Asheville-based Van Wingerden Greenhouse Company will manufacture the greenhouse. Established in 1972, Van Wingerden has built greenhouses for New York Botanical Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Mt. Cuba Center, The University of Tennessee, Duke University, Metrolina Greenhouses, and others.

“We are deeply grateful for the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation’s generous support,” said Southern Highlands Reserve Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks. “Traditionally, gardens have been a place of respite, providing education and beauty — conservation contained within set boundaries. Now it’s necessary for us to venture outside our own property lines and apply our knowledge of horticulture conservation to a broader landscape, focusing on regional efforts in a long-range perspective. We look forward to honoring Bunny Mellon’s legacy with our work.”

To learn more, volunteer, or donate to red spruce restoration, visit and